Posts in: Block 6
As I mentioned int the last post, Lazendorf came and played a concert on Thursday. They call themselves an experiment, not a band. They rarely record songs and have nothing written down. Lanzendorf is made up of Bryan Devendorf, Scott Devendorf, and Ben Lanz. Bryan and Scott are brothers, both play with The National. Bryan is the drummer and Scott is the bassist. Ben often plays with The National, among other groups and they all seem to be good friends.
I walked into the concert at Packard Hall. Packard often has classical music, I could tell this was going to be different. The hall was set up with three tents, two on the stage and one up above. Inside the tents there were some lanterns and the stage lights were dimmed down. Lanzendorf walked onto the stage with green jumpsuits on, they did not say a word and began playing. The music was like being in a trance. It was incredibly mellow, they were jamming the whole time improvising every song. They all had a true mastery of their instruments and the digital looping equipment. There was a surprise band member whose name I think was Kate. Kate was holding a microphone and would hold it up to the amp occasionally. Then out of a secret door a man with a beard. also wearing a green jumpsuit would emerge fiddle with something and then leave. Ben would occasionally start singing incomprehensible lyrics and then stop. It was hard to know if they played one continuous song or many songs without pause. After about one hour of playing they stopped, people did not know whether to clap or remain silent.
Ben took the microphone and said a few words of thank you for being at Colorado College and being able to share their music. Then, they picked their instruments back up and the concert continued. They played for another half hour, there were times when it seemed very distorted and others when it seemed incredibly melodic. After the music stopped some people started leaving, but others started coming. The concert has a very different feel than most I have ever seen. The ebb and flow of people made the concert a lot less static than most. On the whole I really enjoyed the concert, the distorted feel made the music exciting and the melodies served as a good relief. I was incredibly impressed by how well they were able to play together especially knowing that they were improvising. The concert had a magical quality that was great to see. I am glad to know that Packard s has now seen more than just lovely classical music.
On the first Monday, 12 Biology majors filed into an Olin classroom, unsure what the course BY359: The Host Response to Pathogens, taught by Dr. Stephanie Schittone held in store for us. As a second semester senior, this course would complete my major in Biology, and would be the last science course I would take at Colorado College.
As an upper level biology course, the class consists of students who are both well-versed in general biology prerequisite classes (genetics, microbiology, etc..), yet simultaneously offer a wide array of knowledge, diverse experiences and course histories, This makes for an interesting, exciting, engaging course with intelligent questions, fun anecdotes, and exciting “Eureka!”moments every day. Eureka moments are one of my favorite things about science classes. That moment where a connection is made in your head, and you get chills down your body at the synthesis of new knowledge. You have done it! You have learned! You are now smarter than the moment before. This is so exhilarating, so enthusing, this is what feeds my soul. Learning is the most exciting thing that life has to offer.
One Eureka moment I had during the first week was concerning an element of the immune system. In the immune response, there are different levels of the immune defense that increases with strength and specificity as time goes on. One of these defenses is through immunoglobulins. Immunoglobulins are antibodies that recognize and bind to foreign antigens (from pathogens) to neutralize the effect of the antigen in the immune system. There are different classes of immunoglobulins, each with specific, different functions. Let’s delve into an example. Immunoglobulin E (E for epsilon) is a class of antibody that recognizes parasites. Parasites have been eradicated from the United States due to water purification regulations. Thus, Immunoglobulin E has found itself bored, with nothing to do. What do you do when you are bored? The answer, of course, is obvious. You find something else to do! The theory is that Immunoglobulin E found itself something to do. Now, the exact mechanism of how this next part works is a little unclear; but supposedly, Immunoglobulin E has evolved to identify other molecules as potential dangers to the body. We call them allergies. While there is also a genetic component, allergies are the antigen that Immunoglobulin E “entertains” itself with. This theory is strengthened by the frequency of allergies in countries and continents with parasites. Allergies are very infrequent in countries with parasites. This can be explained by – anybody know it? – the fact that Immunoglobulin E can be found mounting a defense against parasites, and cannot find the time to be bored! AMAZING STUFF ISN’T IT.
Everyone knows what the stomach bug is. The common cold is …… common. More severe bacterial infections like MRSA have sparked public fear around the country. But what happens inside your body? How does the body fight off these pathogens? The 12 of us have begun a journey inside the body, into the lives of immune cells, and into the fight against pathogens.
We delved into the basic immune response almost immediately, and I was struck with how skilled the body is at protecting itself. Various levels of immune response work together to activate higher and more specific attacks on foreign bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. The body is an exquisite work of art.
I’ll let this sink in. We will get more specific in a bit. Get ready!
Talk to you soon.
The past couple of days we have had the chance to meet some especially cool people. The first were Bruce and Gabe.
Bruce is a graphic designer, he started a company called Post Typography. His interest in graphic design began in high school, where he published zines ( hand made magazines); he was scolded by his principle for making the zines. Bruce is a tall man with glasses, he seems quite nerdy. He was also part of post-punk band called Double Dagger. A double dagger looks like this: ‡, the band name and its songs paid tribute to typography.
Gabe is a photographer and film maker, he started Folk Hero Films. Like Gabe, his interest in aesthetic began making zines, he also got in trouble for their publications. Gabe’s first break as a photographer came when a National Geographic photographer took him under his wing. The photographer took pictures of tigers and rhinoceros, Gabe assisted. Once he got chased by a rhino while on the back on an elephant. His first complete story came with the documentary The Harvest. The Harvest explores and organization like Make a Wish, except these kid’s last wishes are to go on an epic hunt.
Through Gabe’s work on The Harvest he and Bruce began their collaboration. Bruce made all of the opening sequences for the movie, which consisted of old paintings of hunters. The main collaboration, however, has been working on Gabe’s documentary If We Shout Loud Enough. If We Shout Loud Enough is about Double Dagger, their influence on the Baltimore music scene, and their last tour before they called it quits. Gabe and Bruce epitomize many of the concepts that we have covered in class. They embrace the DIY spirit, through music, typography and film.
The second guests came to our class today. Scott Devendorf and Bryan Devendorf of The National and Ben Lanz of The National and Beirut. Together, they formed a band named Lanzendorf, a combination of their last names. I asked them how they felt about the concept of selling out, which we have discussed in class. Some background, about twenty years ago selling out meant anything to do with conforming to mass media. This included changing your sound to become more commercial or licensing a song to advertisements. They responded that they felt changing your sound was “not cool” but that some National songs have been on commercials and TV shows. They told us that musicians no longer make money from CD sales, so putting a song in a commercial is an easy way to make some money. They told us that they had never really meant to pursue music, but had always loved it. Lazendorf started when the opener for the National did not show up, it is experimental and jammy. They are playing a concert tonight!! Talking to people that have such a connection to the indie scene has been a true highlight of the class.
During our first few days of indie rock and culture I was surprised to hear that some of seminal bands that began what would become the indie movement were not great musicians. Bands like the Sex Pistols were made up of 4 men who could only play a couple of power chords and were not great singers. What the band did have, was an embodiment of the anti establishment, troubled youth sentiment that was running through England in the 1970’s. Bands like the Sex Pistols and the Clash were true punks who knew you did not need to know how to play the guitar to be successful. They believed and embraced the DIY (do it yourself) image. They were part of subculture ( which I’ve learned is a word that cannot be properly defined) but essentially means people that do not identify with mainstream society such as punks, hippies and now, hipsters.
In the 1980’s Sonic Youth and Nirvana came along. Nirvana emerged from the grunge movement of Seattle. Made up of people that were dissatisfied with society. Kurt Cobain, front man of Nirvana, dealt with issues of authenticity and legitimization of music. As a musician that was thrown into the spot light he wanted the world to know that he was more than a man in a grunge band. This made me question whether all musicians want to feel a sense of wanting to be true musicians and why.
As a result of these movements and many others indie rock emerged. It was made up a group of musicians that did not want to support mainstream music and big record labels. The main discussions we’ve been having in class is whether or not indie music is for the high class. Bands like Vampire Weekend and the Dirty Projector came from ivy league schools. They were exposed to many different types of music that then influenced their songs. Some critics have called Vampire Weekend “ivy league post colonials” which I think is both funny and insightful. Personally, I think that while indie music has been associated with privilege a great thing about it is that it makes an effort to include many cultures and hopefully attract a diverse group of people.
Yesterday was amazing. I didn’t get a chance to blog about it, but now I’m sitting in Colorado Coffee and it’s cold out and I’m wearing flip-flops, so I basically have no choice. Anyway. Yesterday we had an incredible opportunity to Skype with Kris Diaz, the playwright who wrote Chad Deity and was nominated for a Pulitzer. Idris talked to him for twentyish minutes about technique and about what it’s like to be a playwright of color (all the standard stuff–we’ve been covering this ground for a bit and we’re all seasoned race-discussers), but then we got the chance to ask him our own questions.
Playwrights are a very, very smart bunch. They’re very measured in the way that they talk, they know how to get a laugh out of you, and they know how to grab your attention when you might not be taking them seriously. Kris talked to us about how he builds characters, how he humanizes villains, how he gets his ideas down on paper, etc.
I haven’t had a lot of chances in my life to talk to anyone famous (and yes, for all intents and purposes I’m consider Kris famous) or otherwise eminent in the art world. One of my favorite things ever, though, is realizing that these people are human. They are just like me. How much more motivation could anyone possibly need to become a successful artist? Determination and dedication can get you anywhere, and talking to Kris just reaffirmed that for me.
There are a lot more things I could say about our conversation. The most important, though, is this: when I had the chance to ask him a question (I got to ask Kris Diaz a question, how cool is that?) about how to get out of my mind and onto the paper, he told me, in exactly these words, “it doesn’t fucking matter.” IT DOESN’T FUCKING MATTER. GAH. I can’t get over that. He went on to talk about how having a partially completed piece of shit play is better than having nothing at all, and all that jazz. But that was one of the best things that happened to me in a long time. Kris Diaz told me, not in so many words, that anything I write counts. And that is the best thing I could have heard.
I can’t get over this shit. Oh man.
Well, Idris found out about my blog, so I’ve got to be more careful about what I say. Hopefully he doesn’t find my secret blog where I just complain about him–no one tell him where that one is.
Anyway, today we read a play called The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity. It’s by a guy called Kris Diaz who we’ll be Skyping with tomorrow (what! what school do I even go to where we get to talk to Pulitzer-nominated playwrights like it’s nothing?) and it’s about wrestling. Sort of. It’s a monologue-heavy, direct-address, 4th-wall-shattering, New-York-Times-infuriating play about identity and cultural appropriation and misinterpretation and stereotypes and all that great stuff that gets you nominated for a Pulitzer.
I was so lucky that my friend James turned down Idris’s casting call, because it meant I got to read for the main character, Macedonio Guerra. Macedonio (Mace) grew up in the Bronx watching AWA wrestling and dreaming of the day when he could “tell a perfect story.” Mace talks about how wrestling might be fake and contrived, but how that doesn’t make it any less of an art form. He compares it to ballet, where (paraphrasing here) you know the swan will die from the beginning, but you watch anyway. Wrestling as an American cultural institution is often seen as a celebration of all America shouldn’t be: vapid, fake, garish, what have you. I’m definitely guilty of thinking these things myself. But after reading this play and getting an insight into the hopes and dreams of a man in love with wrestling, I think I feel differently. Maybe. I’m about to look up videos of the superkick. I’ll know then if I’m barking up the right tree.
That, though, is the mark of a great play in my mind. I talked about this phenomenon in my post on Hit the Wall. Even though I have little to nothing in common with the characters on the surface, I still feel them and empathize with them. They still ring these bells in my mind that makes them so familiar to me. Chad Deity was able to do that for me, and that makes it worthy of its accolades, no matter what that NY Times critic has to say about it.
We read an incredible play today called Hit the Wall, by Ike Holter. It was a heavily dialogue-driven, witty, sad, razor-sharp, rhythmic play that I think will stick with me for a very long time. Hit the Wall is about the Stonewall Riot, an event in 1969 that many historians seem to agree was the catalyst for the LGBT rights movement. It concerns characters that fall into a million different archetypes and stereotypes, but as stylized as the characters are, the play is eminently relatable–and painful for its relatability.
As a straight white male, I had (superficially) very little in common with the protagonists of Hit the Wall. They were gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transvestite, black, Chicano, etc. etc. patrons of the Stonewall, a gay bar in the East Village in New York. I am none of these things, and this speaks to how well-written this play was: every single character said something that resonated with me.
I had the privilege of reading for a character called Tano, a “member of the Snap Queen Team.” He is a gay Chicano who assumes a subtle choral role in the play (meaning he is somewhat outside the action and acts as a commentator on what’s going on in the play itself), and he spits insults and Spanglish like nobody’s business. He was one of the most fun table read characters I’ve ever read, but that’s beside the point. What I’m getting at here is that as I sat onstage listening to the action that Tano wasn’t involved in, I was involuntarily flexing my arms and hands and jaw and clenching and biting and otherwise viscerally reacting to what was happening. Every single event made me want to hit someone, or snap my fingers like I was listening to a slam poem, or bite my own hands off.
That sounds crazy. But it’s true. Hit the Wall is an indisputably great play. It makes bold statements about historic events while staying fully in the present. It means something today, even though it’s based on events that happened over forty years ago.
Read it. It’s so worth your time.
It’s not good. It’s not terrible either. It’s just alright, but it’s also the longest play I’ve ever written, so I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.
I have not written a lot of fiction in my life. This play, while definitely angsty and almost definitely shitty, is still dialogue-driven, still meets the page requirement, and still has some cool stuff going on onstage. So while I might not be proud of it, it’s on paper. (Actually no it’s not, it’s still just a lowly PDF, but I’m printing in a sec) That might be one of the more valuable things I’ve learned from this class: if you can get it out of your head, you’ll be able to edit it and make it workable. That’s what I did. I kept myself from saying “this is shitty, I shouldn’t write this,” and now I have a play. Doesn’t change its shitty factor. But it exists.
And dammit, that counts.
I’m 7 pages into my 10-pager, and I’ve fallen into every trap I promised myself I would avoid: I’m angsty, I’m not making jokes, I’m writing about things I haven’t researched fully, and I don’t know how I’m going to end it in the next 3 to 8 pages. Dialogue is really not my forte.
I’m so grateful that I get the chance to practice writing a dialogue-driven play, I just wish I had any idea what in God’s name I’m doing.
It’s about schizoid delusion. I’m not very happy with it at all.
That was trying to be a pun on “medical pot,” but that’s not important right now. We’re in class right now discussing a student play about a writer who loses his wife to his incompetence in husbandhood in 1939, and we’ve spent an hour discussing reasons why it’s so great and saying “I don’t want to be prescriptive” over and goddamn over again. All I want is to get some decent criticisms of these plays. I love writing and I love reading other students’ work, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask for us to receive some really biting editorial critique.
I just don’t know how to go about asking for that without seeming like that dick who says “you could work on that.” I’m looking for an entrance to figure this out.